Have you been putting yourself last lately? Here are 19 super-easy things you can do to beat stress, reduce anxiety and boost your mood.
If you're trying to live your healthiest life, eating clean, working out and making sure you take preventative measures against the illnesses women commonly face are all likely on your radar. But do you remember to do the small things, too? Those tiny, seemingly unimportant actions, like taking a real lunch break, grabbing coffee with a friend or planning a do-nothing day, can actually have a huge impact on your mental, and even physical, health. Keeping that in mind, self-care isn't selfish or shallow; it's a really important part of a healthy lifestyle. (This is especially true for women, who often put everyone else's needs before their own!) With that in mind, here are 19 inexpensive and easy things you can do to put yourself first.
1. Make your bath or shower that much better
Turn your nightly shower into an impromptu aromatherapy session by using an easy-to-make bath or shower bomb. A 2009 study in the International Journal of Neuroscience found "credible evidence that odours can affect mood, physiology and behaviour"—so try lavender, jasmine or ylang ylang for relaxation and peppermint, citrus or rosemary for an energy boost.
Yes, we're quoting a hashtag. But it actually is important to do something for yourself, for no other reason than you want to, even if it's just once in a while. So consider this permission to have that doughnut or splurge at the mall!
3. Stay hydrated
Don't forget your H2O! If you need some help in the hydration department, try adding citrus fruits, mint or cucumbers for a flavour boost. Also worth a try: finding a fun eco-friendly water bottle that you love. And there are also apps that will ping you when it's time to refill your glass. Try Plant Nanny or Waterlogged.
4. Be creative
There's a reason adult colouring books have become so trendy—art therapy has proven health benefits. A 2016 study in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, the British Psychological Society's academic journal, found it helped people with mental health issues like depression or anxiety relax, express themselves and feel empowered, among other benefits.
5. Plan a spa day
Splurge on a professional massage, or, get the same effect at home by giving yourself a spa-quality DIY facial. Even taking a few minutes to paint your toenails can have a soothing effect.
6. Start an indulgent post-shower ritual
Use a luxurious lotion with a scent you love, toss your ratty PJs in favour of soft and cozy new threads—and consider splurging on the fancy face cream!
7. Go outside
There are serious wellness benefits to getting out of the house (or the office, for that matter). In fact, spending time in nature has been part of the Japanese government's preventative health strategy since the 80s. They call it shinrin-yoku, which translates to "forest bathing," and it means simply being in the presence of trees—not by hiking or camping, just by… being there. And there's science behind it: a 2010 study in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine found that spending time in nature leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure and a lower pulse rate than spending time in urban settings.
8. Set screen time limits—for yourself
We love our smartphones, tablets and laptops, too… but binge-watching the hottest new show or scrolling through emails before bed can impact your sleep, and researchers are starting to look at the ways social media can impact your mental health. Turns out, there a real health benefits to going tech-free for at least part of the day.
9. Spend time reading
Whether it's a novel, non-fiction read or collection of poetry, practice some affordable escapism with a good book. (Need a recommendation? Check out our book club.)
10. Pet a dog
Or a cat! Researchers believe cuddling with a pet has real mental health benefits. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, and petting an animal prompts your body to release this hormone. And owning a pet has other health benefits, too, including decreasing your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, warding off loneliness and encouraging you to exercise and socialize more, says the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
11. Or, cuddle up with a loved one
In fact, hugging another person—or even a pillow!—releases serotonin, too.
12. Listen to music
Put on your favourite song or album and let yourself jam out. Scientists say music can have mood-boosting effects—though one study did find it only works if you actively try to feel happier. Here's to dancing like nobody's watching!
13. De-clutter your social media accounts
It can feel rude to unfollow people on Facebook or Twitter, but if you're constantly cringing at friends' too-candid updates, or you disagree with their political or religious posts, or you don't actually like them IRL, it may be time to clean up your friends list. And it doesn't have to be a major statement—both Facebook and Twitter allow you to stop seeing someone's updates without actually severing your connection. (Just opt to unfollow on Facebook and mute on Twitter.)
14. Bake something
There's something meditative about the act of baking—you have to measure the ingredients precisely and combine them in just the right order, and at the end, you're rewarded with a positive result: a sweet treat!
15. Get organized
If you're feeling stressed out but you're not sure why, the culprit might be surprisingly close to home. Actually, it might be your home. Clutter isn't often discussed as a source of stress, but it can make us feel anxious, overwhelmed and embarrassed. Don't feel like you have to whip your entire house into shape at once, though. Start by tackling small corners of your space—say, your cluttered home office or overflowing front closet. You'll find peace in the order and cleanliness, we promise.
16. Write it out
Jotting down your thoughts and impressions about stressful, emotional or even traumatic experiences can actually help you overcome those events, according to a 2005 study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment.
17. Try breathing exercises
Meditation, and it's recently popular cousin, mindfulness, has lots of well-documented health benefits—including reducing anxiety and depression, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, and lowering blood pressure and increased quality of life in senior citizens, according to a study published the same year in Geriatrics & Gerontology. But if you (like us) find the idea of meditating a little intimidating, there's good news: simply breathing deeply can have a similarly positive impact, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure, relieving stress and even boosting productivity.
"Laughter is the best medicine" isn't just a pithy saying. It can instantly put you in a better mood. Find a funny movie, TV show or stand-up comedian and have the first, and last laugh.
19. Get enough sleep
Don't cheat yourself out of one of the most important things you can do for your health! Skimping on sleep can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. So make sure you're getting enough shut-eye—and don't feel bad about taking a quick cat nap if you're not.